House Subcommittee Discusses New Religious Freedom Act

November 10, 2005 ( - The US House Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee has reviewed the impact of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act sponsored by Education and the Workforce Committee member Mark Souder (R-Indiana).

The 1964 Civil Rights Act generally protects an employee’s right to observe religious practices in the workplace, unless it poses an undue burden on the employer.  According to a press release, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to define “undue hardship” as “requiring significant difficulty or expense” as measured by:

  • the cost to the employer (including the loss of productivity and/or retraining or transferring employees from one facility to another);
  • the overall financial resources and size of the employer; and
  • for multi-facility employers, the geographic or administrative separateness of the facilities.

Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) summed up the issue of the discussions, “…how do we protect the rights of people of faith adhering to their beliefs in an increasingly diverse workplace?  At the same time, how do we strike the right balance so that employers and businesses – often small businesses – are able to staff and run their operations in a productive manner while respecting all employees?

One of the witnesses in the discussions, Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel for the American Jewish Committee, pointed to statistics showing a 75% increase in claims of religious discrimination in the workplace to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2002 and 2004 as proof of the need for the Act.

A copy of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act is    here .